Joan McSweeney was “over the moon” — and it seemed everyone else in Leamington was too — as four years of hard work and planning culminated with the opening Wednesday of a stunning residence to care for dying people in their final days.
McSweeney had a brother who died in the hospital. She was not allowed into the emergency department to see him, so she sat in the waiting room while he died alone.
“I vowed I would make it different for others. That’s the passion for me and we did it,” said the Leamington resident and board member of the Hospice of Windsor and Essex County, who with her husband Terry helped lead the team effort to deliver a satellite hospice to the Leamington area. It took a feasibility study, developing a partnership with Leamington District Memorial Hospital, and the coming together of the entire community.
For example, she cited, when the call went out that the new building needed some art, 60 works were donated within four days, including 24 by a single artist. Every room, every hallway, every nook and cranny now boasts something beautiful, said McSweeney.
“It all has come together in this magnificent building.”
Several hundred attended the official ceremonies to open the new Erie Shores Campus, the first-in-Canada satellite residential hospice. More than $5 million has been raised so far to pay for its $6-million pricetag, and all that money came from the county — either from county council, which decided unanimously to donate $2 million, or from residents of Leamington, Kingsville and the other communities that will use it.
“This facility will greatly enhance the lives of many families from this day going forward,” said Leamington Mayor John Paterson, who added his town has also provided the one-kilometre Serenity Trail behind the building to give visiting family members the chance to walk, ponder and think.
“It’s just spectacular, the whole community seizing the opportunity,” said Gary Switzer, CEO of the Erie St. Clair LHIN, the agency that approved the project and provides its annual base funding of about $90,000 per bed for the 10-bed facility.
“It’s a gift for the entire community by the entire community.”
When people are near the end of their lives, most want to be at home. “But that’s not always possible — families get tired, and even though they’re supported by the CCAC and nursing agencies and hospice (which all provide home care), that is a huge onus to put on families who are not trained to do this,” said Hospice CEO Carol Derbyshire.
“When people get tired, that’s when we can say come in with us and let us take care of all of you, because our philosophy is to care not only for the patient, but the whole family.”
The residence will be staffed by about 20 employees — including health professionals — and 100 volunteers who do all sorts of tasks, from preparing meals to gardening to keeping patients company. The first patient moves in on Monday.
The families who’ve been taking care of these patients at home are often exhausted and stressed, from staying up all night or worrying whether they’re giving the right amount of medication.
“And then they come in here, we get the patient settled and they can sit back and be a husband or a wife or a son or a daughter,” said Derbyshire. “They don’t have to be a caregiver anymore. And I think that’s one of the big advantages to having a residential home.”
The Amicone family — which presides over one of the region’s largest construction and development firms — saw the need for a hospice residence in the Leamington area when family member Moe DiSchiavo was dying four years ago. Because he didn’t want to leave his Leamington-area home for the Windsor hospice, hospice came to him, setting up a hospice-like operation in his home, said brother-in-law Dominic Amicone. “They did an amazing job taking care of him in his last days.”
So the family wanted to give something back. They donated the land for the new hospice and then built it at a discounted price of $4.5 million, including having Dan Amicone of Architecttura do the design at no charge. Dominic Amicone estimated it would have cost about $700,000 more without the reduced prices and the donated work from sub-trades.
The residence has the feel of a brand new mansion, with a fireplace in each residence suite, an opulent kitchen, a tea room with a few of the backyard wildlife, comfortable common areas and aquariums full of fish to add to the serenity. Although the LHIN provides money for the medical staffing it will cost about $300,000 extra annually to pay for the extra services that Hospice considers vital to the patient and family experience. The Leamington hospital’s foundation has committed to raise that money every year, a remarkable commitment, according to Derbyshire.
“I don’t think it’s done anyplace else, but that speaks to the generosity and that’s the Essex County way.”